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The Social Determinants of Health: How Your Environment Impacts Your Health

When you think of factors that influence your health, you probably think of eating well, staying active and seeing a doctor when you’re sick. But there are many more factors that influence our health that we don’t always think about—the social determinants of health.

One big factor that impacts our health is the conditions in which we live. Health starts in homes, schools, workplaces and communities. Our access to social and economic opportunities, such as the quality of schools, safety of workplaces, and the availability of clean food and water all impact our health.

The term “social determinants of health” describes the conditions into which people are born, grow, live and work. This includes aspects such as education, income, living environment, access to healthcare, available social support networks and much more. The chart below, courtesy of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, outlines various social determinants of health.

The Social Determinants of Health

In addition to economic stability, neighborhood and physical environment, education, food, community and social context, and the healthcare system, there are a few more social determinants of health:

  • Gender inequity
  • Racial segregation
  • Early childhood experiences and development
  • Social support and community inclusivity
  • Crime rates and exposure to violent behavior
  • Access to safe drinking water, clean air, and toxin-free environments
  • Recreational and leisure opportunities

Why the Social Determinants of Health Matter

Growing research shows that medical care accounts for only 10-20% of health outcomes, while 80-90% of outcomes are a result of environmental and social factors. By understanding the social determinants of health, policymakers and healthcare professionals can assess what’s needed most in a community and then take the proper measures to work toward a healthy population. Reducing health inequities, such as lack of access to healthcare, lack of education, and lack of access to essential social services results in positive health outcomes on both communities and individuals. Research has even shown that an individual’s medical expenses are greatly reduced when housing, transportation and food needs are met.

Prolonged exposure to a negative environment can have a significant impact on your health. For example, living in a community that lacks essential services and supports can lead to stress, which over time increases one’s chances of many health issues. These include heart disease, asthma, various cancers, obesity, diabetes, frequent headaches, depression, anxiety, digestive issues and accelerated aging. While stress management techniques can be very beneficial, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to be effective in a community that is scarce on essential resources.

Take a look at the chart below comparing the deaths in 2000 that were attributable to social determinants as compared to other causes of death.

How We Work to Improve Community Health

KVC Hospitals

KVC Hospitals provides treatment for youth ages 6 to 18 who struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, suicidal thoughts and other mental health challenges. Each year, we help thousands of youth through our nonprofit network of hospitals and residential and day treatment programs by teaching youth about their brains, the impacts of stress, and emotion and body regulation.

KVC Kansas

KVC Kansas is a private, nonprofit organization that serves 30,000 Kansas children and adults each year. Its provides family preservation services, foster care case management, family reunification servicesfoster family recruitment and supportadoptionaftercareoutpatient therapy and more.

Want to join our mission of enriching and enhancing the lives of children and families? Join our team!